In July 1991, Andy and I got married in Houston, Texas where we were both living at the time. We had a fairly short engagement and I had not met his parents before the wedding. So for our honeymoon, Andy planned a trip for us to fly out to Arizona, his home state, to introduce me to his parents and to do some sightseeing.
I had never been to Arizona (Texas was as far west as I had ever been), so I was excited about the trip. I had my own preconceptions about what Arizona would be like–hot desert, lots of cactus and rattlesnakes, old western towns. When we landed at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix and walked outside to pick up our rental car, the hot, dry air immediately reinforced those preconceptions.
But over the next few days, I found out that there is so much more to Arizona than what is portrayed in the western movies and popular culture. Andy had made reservations for us to stay near Sedona, but when we arrived at the hotel, we found that although it had a Sedona address, it was located far enough away that the red rocks weren’t even visible. Andy wasn’t pleased at all, so he got on the phone and changed our reservation, and found us a hotel in Flagstaff instead. We left immediately and drove into Flagstaff in the middle of a monsoon rain shower (I knew nothing about monsoons at that time), and I immediately fell in love with Northern Arizona.
The temperature in July was cool, the vegetation was green with all the Ponderosa pine, aspen and juniper trees. The air smelled fresh and clean, especially after the rain. The town of Flagstaff was full of interesting restaurants, coffee shops, tourist traps, and businesses that catered to the college crowd at NAU. Everywhere we looked there were people bicycling or hiking, or driving around with kayaks and/or camping gear loaded onto their vehicles. I had just been introduced to Paradise.
Flash-Forward to May 2000:
After we got married, we got introduced to tent-camping by some friends of ours. We would pitch our tent at local state parks where we would enjoy the outdoors while fighting off those huge Texas mosquitoes in the oppressive Gulf Coast humidity–but we had a blast.
And then one fateful day, on a whim, we visited an RV show at the nearby Astrodome. We had never looked at RVs before, and were in awe of the luxury and convenience to be found in what we had always thought of as a “camper”. Who knew that you could actually have a fireplace (electric) in a camper? We heard stories of people who actually lived in these units full-time, after selling their homes and belongings, and who traveled the country as nomads. And right there, we decided that’s what we were going to do “when we retire”.
In May 2000, we left Houston and moved to the Phoenix area to be closer to Andy’s parents as they began to need some assistance with aging issues. Living in Arizona gave us the opportunity to see more of the state as we continued tent camping, and we both fell in love even more with Northern Arizona, specifically the areas of Sedona, Prescott and Flagstaff. We began to dream about one day living in the high country among the pines, in the cooler temperatures.
Here it is, mid-August 2019, and we are close to wrapping up an entire summer fulfilling our dream of actually living in Flagstaff, Arizona. And it’s been so much better than we had ever imagined!
Instead of paying the high cost of rent or a mortgage for real estate in the Flagstaff area, we brought our home with us and parked it for free on public land in the Coconino National Forest, about 10 miles outside of the city limits at about 8,100′ in elevation. We are surrounded by pine and aspen trees, and we can hike every day along the multitude of forest roads and trails that wind up and down the mountain.
When we arrived, there was still snow on the nearby peaks visible from our campsite. Over the summer we’ve watched our environment change as the snow melted and ran in small streams down the sides of the road. The aspens that were bare when we arrived gradually leafed out and are now whispering in the breezes that cool the forest.
We watched the spring flowers bloom, one variety after another, until the fields were covered in blue, purple and yellow flowers, and the butterflies began to arrive. We saw deer, elk, squirrels, chipmunks, a rabbit, a skunk, a coyote, and many different bird species. Every day the sky was blue and the humidity was low–until the monsoon arrived just in time to help put an end to the Museum Fire that broke out in early July just north of Flagstaff.
With the monsoon providing rain and higher humidity, the grasses began to grow tall. The spring flowers gradually faded, to be replaced by summer flowers like thistles, that attract the most beautiful bees I’ve ever seen. My daily hikes have been an adventure in observing the almost daily changes in the flora of the area.
Our location has given us easy access to all the services and amenities that Flagstaff has to offer. We’ve supported the local economy by purchasing gas, propane and groceries, dining out, paying dumping fees, doing laundry and getting haircuts–even dropping some bucks at the local art fair.
Because our RV is self-contained, has an onboard generator, and we have invested in solar power, we’re able to boondock (camp without electric/water/sewer hookups), so we didn’t have to worry about trying to snag one of those hard-to-get reservations at an RV park in Flagstaff. We’ve been able to keep our expenses to a minimum by living close to nature instead of paying for hookups in a park where RVs are parked side-by-side with no privacy.
By living in the area for several months, we’ve gotten to know our way around and feel like we’re actually part of a community that admittedly is somewhat seasonal. We’re certainly not the only people who “summer” in Flagstaff!
And that’s the whole point–we didn’t want to just “vacation” in Flagstaff, we wanted to actually live here, and that’s what we’ve been able to do, thanks to the full-time RV lifestyle that we have adopted. It was a dream that we had for years that finally came to fruition in a way that we never could have expected, but which turned out perfectly for us.
I can’t imagine that I would ever want a sticks-and-bricks home in Flagstaff (or anywhere else, for that matter). I just don’t want to feel tied down to a property where I store my stuff, where I have to contend with yard maintenance and HOA fees and less-than-desirable neighbors. And Flagstaff gets pretty cold in the winter, and I’m not a cold-weather person.
So when the summer ends, we will leave Flagstaff (reluctantly) and drive on to our next destination, wherever that may be, as we chase 70°. We’ll eventually head east to Mississippi for the Thanksgiving holidays with my family, and then return to the desert for the winter.
But we already know in our hearts that when the temperatures start to warm up after the winter is over, we’ll once again point the RV toward our summer dream destination, Flagstaff, Arizona.
Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.